Okay, it's that time again!
That's right, it's playoff time. Most teams have been eliminated already, but there are 12 teams left in the race. Four games will be played this weekend, and that will bring the number of teams still alive down to eight.
Those four games provide some intriguing match-ups. That seems particularly true with the final game of this weekend, when the Giants defense meet the Packers offense. However, the first game this season features the two playoff teams with the most unsettled quarterback situations right now. And the Miami at Pittsburgh game could be a memorable one, as the Dolphins hope to outlast the Steelers. The only game that seems almost like a lock at this point would be the one in Seattle, where the Detroit Lions, frankly, look a bit like pretenders.
Let's take a look at the upcoming playoff games this weekend:
Oakland at Houston - These two teams are the most troubled, in terms of their quarterback situations. The Raiders lost Carr, and the Texans never seemed to settle their quarterback situation all season, which probably figured largely as to why their offense was so dysfunctional this season. The Texans do have a good defense, though, and with the Raiders still adjusting to life after Carr (at least for the remainder of this season), that could prove to be too much. Oakland's offense was solid all season, but this past weekend, in their first and only game so far without Carr, they looked inept, scoring two field goals at Mile High against Denver. Safe to say that they are going to need more than that against Houston, but can they do it? Houston was one of the toughest defenses in the league this season, allowing the fewest yards on average, although they do not rank quite as high in points allowed. Oakland's defense is not nearly as impressive, although they will not likely be tested too much with the Texans offense. So, expect a low scoring affair, and most likely, a game that goes all the way to the fourth quarter. This could go either way, and it is a difficult game to pick. But since I have to predict a winner, I will go with the team that was better all season. My pick: Oakland
Detroit at Seattle - The Seahawks are not the team that we have been used to seeing these past few years. They were in the second seed position all season long, until they lost it right at the end. And this team seems to struggle unexpectedly, losing to the Rams and struggling to get by the 49ers. The Lions looked surprisingly solid until a few weeks ago. They stood at 9-4, and at first glance, appeared to be a lock for both the playoffs and the NFC North Division title. But then, they lost their last three games, although their earlier solid play allowed them to qualify for the postseason, although they kind of backed into it. Still, they can be dangerous, as Matthew Stafford enjoyed his finest season, and the offense looked potent all season. Still, the defense is unremarkable, and Seattle remains a very tough place to play. The Seahawks may have struggled, but that was mostly on the road. If their dominance remains, it would be in Seattle, where they went 7-1 this season. And for a team who's confidence has to be faltering following losses against the Giants, Dallas, and Green Bay. True, those are all tough playoff teams, but still, that is a tough series of losses at the most inopportune time. Those three straight losses prevented them from winning the NFC North, and almost saw them miss out on the playoffs. Plus, the Lions were impressive in Detroit, but not so much on the road, compiling a 3-5 record. Their only somewhat impressive win on the road was in Minnesota, and the Vikings were hardly elite material. So, the questions are coming from all over as to whether the Lions can actually pull this one off. Seattle might not be what they once were, but they can still be tough, and especially within the comfortable confines of their home, where this game will be played. With superior playoff experience to boot, I would be hard pressed to bet against the 'Hawks in this one. My pick: Seattle
Miami at Pittsburgh - The Dolphins have a potentially explosive offense, and startlingly, Miami has played the Steelers surprisingly tough in recent years, beating them the last two times (one of them was at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field). So, the Finns have more of a chance than many will give them credit for. Still, Pittsburgh's offense is clicking, and they are probably the second or third hottest team entering the playoffs, after the Patriots and Packers. Obviously, Pittsburgh has more playoff experience, and that, coupled with home field advantage, could prove to be decisive. Pittsburgh had one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, and Miami's defense will be seriously tested. Still, the Dolphins are unpredictable, and they should enter this game with confidence, knowing that they already beat this Steelers team earlier in the season, even though that was in Miami. The Dolphins have been hot following a dismal 1-4 start to the season, going 9-1 after that before losing to New England last week, in what was a largely meaningless game for them. Plus, that streak began with the win over the Steelers. As for Pittsburgh, they too struggled earlier, dropping four straight, and standing at a compromising 4-5. But they won all seven since then, and look like a different team, making them quite dangerous. This is a tough game to call, as it would not be surprising no matter who wins. But if pressed to pick a winner here, I have to go with the hottest team, who also happens to have home field advantage in this one. My pick; Pittsburgh
N.Y. Giants at Green Bay - The Giants are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season, and we all remember what happened back then. They ran the table, much like they did in the 2007-08 season, and wound up winning the Super Bowl against the Patriots. In both of those seasons, the Giants went to frigid Lambeau Field and pulled off huge victories, the first one during the NFC Championship Game (Favre's last game with the Pack), and the latest one when Green Bay were the defending champs, and had gone 15-1 that season). But Green Bay looks absolutely hot right now, having overcome a 4-6 start to finish with a flurry at 10-6, and the NFC North title. Rodgers may have looked vulnerable and not quite himself early in the season, but whatever issues were there seem to be gone now, as he is back to his top form. That sets up an intriguing match-up between the Giants "D" and the Packers explosive offense. Yet, the key match might just be when the Giants offense takes on Green Bay's defense. Neither of those units were ranked particularly highly, although the Giants offense is still waiting for that big, breakout game. They were one of only four offenses in the NFL this season that did not manage to reach the 30-point mark in any game, and the other three teams (Chicago, San Francisco, and Cleveland) all fell well short of the playoffs. The only team that ranked lower offensively that is in the playoffs are the Texans. But the Packers defense has some vulnerabilities, and Manning has considerable playoff experience, obviously. That makes this an interesting game, and invariables could play a huge role. How the special teams do, who gets more turnovers, and who capitalizes more from the other team's mistakes, all should help to determine the final outcome in this one. Maybe I am too much of a Giants fan here, but I suspect that they actually pull off a tough road win in this game. My pick: N.Y. Giants